Grassroots Effort Launches to Protect Local Workforce System 

Recently Gov. Dirk Kempthorne announced a proposal to consolidate community-based workforce programs into a single statewide system. This move will cut out local business leaders and elected officials from creating meaningful systems for their individual communities.

What is the Workforce Investment Act?

The Workforce Investment Act developed public/private partnerships between local business and local elected officials (county commissioners, city council members, mayors) to solve regional workforce issues. In southwest Idaho, the regional workforce system is called WorkSOURCE. Regionally-based programs are necessary because the needs of North Idaho are significantly different from those in the southwest to the eastern part of the state.

Regions identify "high growth" occupations and work to develop training programs that will aid in the creation of qualified workers. Regions direct funding for job seeker support and training. The current system has been a resounding success, making Idaho one of the top performing states in the western U.S. in WIA.

Statewide Consolidation

In March, WorkSOURCE learned of an $842,000 budget cut in WIA funding for the region, just below 25 percent. As WorkSOURCE was preparing a budget and seeking solutions to overcome the shortfall, the State of Idaho announced that it would consolidate the six regions of the state into two regions; north, south and east being consolidated into one. East-central Idaho including Idaho Falls and Rexburg (Region VI) remained its own area.

Region VI will be given $100,000 as an incentive to participate in the newly formed Idaho Workforce Consortium. No other region in the state was invited to participate. Currently, Region VI has enrolled 5 percent of WIA participants in the state, while the largest region, WorkSOURCE serves 41 percent of Idaho's population. Over the past five years, the six regions have received incentive grants. The largest that WorkSOURCE has ever received was $30,000. It has been announced that no region other than Region VI will receive future incentive funds.

Why Make the State More Reliant Upon Decreasing Federal Funding?

Currently, each Workforce Investment Area around the state is affiliated with local not-for-profit organizations, which can fund-raise and receive donations. State agencies lack this capacity. Ultimately, federal allocations for discretionary programs, such as WIA, are likely to continue to decline. Under the state's proposed model, the Idaho's Workforce Investment System will be reliant upon decreasing federal funds. The purpose of WIA is to leverage public and private resources because Congress understands that federal funding alone will not be sufficient to develop the workforce of the future.

Why is this important?

The Workforce Investment Act is a progressive concept to engage business community leaders to publicly funded programs and, thus, create a new business model for a public program. WorkSOURCE and its partners are poised to develop a new paradigm to solve these budget cuts. These may include more public/private partnerships, joint funding of projects and programs, and new service delivery methods.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the loss of local decision making is his primary concern. "The problem is once you do the administration in Boise, you may not always see the scope of consideration of needs beyond Ada and Canyon Counties," he said. Recognizing the shortcomings of previous job training programs, the U.S. Congress wrote WIA to cement the relationships between local elected officials, business and government.

Rick Jackson, chairman of WorkSOURCE, is deeply concerned about removing private business from directing workforce programs. "I don't believe that a state agency understands the issues that private business faces on a day-to-day basis when it comes to firing and hiring. The restructuring of Idaho's workforce system is not being built to help businesses in Idaho hire the best employees. In my opinion, the system is being built to protect a state bureaucracy."

Bob Barber is the director of WorkSOURCE.

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